Torrey solar project faces opposition

John Christensen
The Chronicle-Express

DRESDEN — The Town of Torrey Zoning Board of Appeals will be considering two applications for a 15-megawatt solar farm on Hansen Point Road between Rte. 14 and Seneca Lake, at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7 at the Torrey Town Highway Dept. on Geneva St. in Dresden.

Looking northeast from her deck, neighbor Paula Edelman is concerned for the visual impact and glare from four solar farm sites on 100 acres just beyond her green fields above.

The Norbut Solar Farm project came before the Planning Board Nov. 16 to propose an area variance in lot coverage from the town’s code of 20% to 28% for the solar panels on the 106-acre site. That number reflects the coverage of the ground by the panels installed on driven posts at a south-facing angle, rather than the square footage of the panels themselves, or the 20–30 acres each site will occupy.

The 15 MW Norbut Solar Farm is proposed on land immediately adjacent to a previously approved 7 MW solar farm owned by Chris Hansen of Climbing Bines Hop Farm and Craft Ale Co., which will occupy approximately 30 acres when completed. Both are community solar projects that offer discounted electric rates to share buyers.

Near neighbors have expressed their objection to further alteration of the use of agricultural land and the visual impact the approximately 70 additional acres of solar panels will have in the rural neighborhood.

One of those neighbors is Paula Edelman whose farm is directly to the south, and whose home is on the hill directly overlooking the proposed solar farm. Edelman inherited the farm which was once covered with vineyards, from her father; and her family has always cherished what they call, “The best view on Seneca Lake.” 

Norbut’s approximately 70 acres of solar fields would lie just to the east of Chris Hansen’s already approved 30 acres of solar fields.
Chris Hansen’s already approved 30 acres of solar fields.

Having known Hansen all his life, Edelman gave her consent to his smaller solar project; one, because leasing to a community solar interest was the only viable way Hansen could afford to buy back that portion of his grandfather’s farm immediately surrounding his brewery and event space; and two, because the impact on her viewshed would be limited. Now that another 70 acres are proposed, the entire northern border of Edelman’s farm will be covered with fields of solar panels. Beyond the impact on the view, Edelman is concerned for the glare that would be reflected from the 100 acres plus of solar panels back to her house on the hill to the south. She believes the concentration of so many panels in one location is too much disruption in the agricultural district.

Norbut faces another hurdle with the town. Town law requires a 20% bond be placed for the future decommissioning of the solar panels. Norbut’s Business Development Manager Dan Huntington called that financial obligation “a project killer,” and will be requesting a change in the law by the Town Board owned rather than leased project lands.

Torrey’s Code Enforcement Officer Dwight James said he consulted the town’s attorney, Jeff Graff, who said the change in financial requirements of the law could not be altered by variance by any board.

While hesitant at first over the bond issue, the Planning Board did finally recommend the use variance to come before the ZBA for approval Dec. 7.